Wyoming’s prisons system says the firing of its first Black female warden wasn’t an act of discrimination.
The Wyoming Department of Corrections on Friday filed an answer to Ruby Ziegler’s lawsuit saying that the department did not fire Ziegler wrongfully.
Ziegler in a December lawsuit alleges that her termination stemmed from her race, sex and her attempt to investigate an extramarital affair within her staff.
The prisons system in its answer counters, saying Ziegler “was terminated for legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons.”
The department also says the U.S. District Court for Wyoming – a federal court – does not have jurisdiction to hear the lawsuit because the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prevents citizens from suing state agencies in federal court.
Congress tried to erode states’ lawsuit immunity under the 11th Amendment when it wrote the two laws Ziegler evoked: The Americans With Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.
But the U.S. Supreme Court has held that Congress exceeded its constitutional authority in doing so, according to WDOC’s answer.
“Consequently, states have 11th Amendment immunity from suits under the ADA and ADEA,” the filing reads.
The state prisons system has asked the court to dismiss Ziegler’s suit.
The court has not yet ruled on the state’s motion to dismiss.
Race, Sex, Disability, Age, Faith
Ziegler was the warden of the Wyoming Honor Farm in Riverton from 2016 to her termination in 2019. She was the first Black female warden to serve the department, according to her December complaint.
She is over the age of 40 and has been medically diagnosed with occipital neuralgia, her complaint states. She alleges those factors, along with her race and sex, played a role in workplace tension she experienced at the honor farm.
Ziegler’s lawsuit alleges that other staffers were uncomfortable with Ziegler’s Christian faith as well.
An Alleged Affair
The department contracts for medical services with Corizon Health Inc., the complaint states.
In 2019, one of Corizon’s employees was fired, and she told Ziegler she believed it was because a white male corrections officer, under Ziegler’s supervision, was having an extramarital affair with a Corizon supervisor, the complaint says.
Ziegler’s complaint says she reported the fired employee’s complaint to the deputy prison administrator and the prison operations administrator, who acknowledged they were “aware about the gossip” of the situation, but did not launch an investigation into the report.
Ziegler then learned, the complaint says, that the corrections officer whose conduct was in question had filed a hostile work environment charge against her.
The deputy prison administrator apologized to Ziegler for not letting her investigate that officer’s conduct, the complaint alleges, adding that Ziegler sees this as acknowledgement that the corrections officer’s complaint against her was “retaliatory.”
But the department pursued the investigation against Ziegler following the officer’s complaint, though it never initiated an investigation into the officer, the complaint alleges.